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Airman Battle Uniform

The Airman Battle Uniform (ABU) is a service-distinctive camouflage battledress uniform for the United States Air Force. It is currently in full production and replaced the Battle Dress Uniform on 1 November 2011 after a four year phase-in period.[1] BDUs are no longer authorized for wear by Airmen.


Close-up of digital tiger stripe pattern.

The first prototype of the ABU was unveiled in the summer of 2003, based on the Vietnam-era Tigerstripe pattern.[2] The early uniform prototypes consisted of trousers, an embroidered undershirt, and a blouse. The camouflage pattern, developed by Tiger Stripe Products and based upon their popular copyrighted Original Vietnam Tiger Stripe, was a blue/gray, tiger stripe pattern.

After months of "wear testing", Air Force officials revised the color scheme and camouflage pattern due to feedback received from Airmen. The new elementary semi-pixelated tiger pattern would trade its dominant blue overtones for a more subdued palette, which still includes some blue tones.[3] However, few of the functional recommendations made by Airmen in the field were implemented into the uniform which remains very similar in design to the older BDU style uniforms.[4] This has been a subject of many complaints from Airmen returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan who had been wearing the U.S. Army-issued Army Combat Uniform (ACU) as a temporary issue uniform. These complaints include the ABU's inability to keep Airmen cool while working in desert conditions due to the thickness of the material (13 ounces) and large interior "map" pockets, lack of storage space and the low ease of use with government issue personal body armor. While not officially recommended, USAF Airmen can cut the pockets out of the inside of the blouse because it does not alter the outer appearance of the uniform. On 2 October 2007, the Air Force began issuing the ABU to enlisted trainees in Basic Military Training at Lackland AFB and was issued to the Class of 2012 at the United States Air Force Academy on 26 June 2008, and is now available for purchase by all Airmen. Since 2008, it has been issued to Airmen deploying to locations in CENTCOM, including Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. Personnel in other countries were issued DCU uniforms while inventory lasted. The ABU is available at Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) military clothing stores. Although the Air Force has officially recognized color variations in different set of ABUs, all variations are currently authorized to wear and the problem should be fixed when the patterns are finalized within a year. The ABU became mandatory (completely replacing the BDU and DCU) at the beginning of fiscal year 2012.[5] In 2010, MultiCam was authorized to replace the ABU-pattern on the Airman Battle System-Ground in the War in Afghanistan by Air Force ground forces.[6]

In June 2011, The Air Force Times released the announcement of a summer weight ABU to be available in 2012. The Improved Airman Battle Uniform will be made of a 50–50 nylon-cotton blend and is the same material used by the Army for the ACU. Just like the ABU, the IABU is machine washable and also wrinkle resistant. Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Norton A. Schwartz gave approval of the IABU coat and pants which will be available to trainees at Basic Military Training first. No special allowance will be given to troops since they are not being forced to buy the uniform, although it will cost about the same as the current ABU.[7] In May 2012, the Air Force changed the terminology of the new ABU uniforms to RABU (Rip-stop Airman Battle Uniform). "[5]"

Features and attributes

Airmen wearing the Airman Battle Uniform

The Airman Battle Uniform is similar to the Army Combat Uniform (or ACU) in color, with the inclusion of slate blue, but is otherwise nearly identical to the BDU layout. The ABU is to be worn with low-maintenance foliage green suede combat boots. The ABU does not have features of the U.S. Army ACU, such as tilted/slanted pockets, sleeve pockets, hook-and-loop attachment points and closures, gusseted back, mandarin collar, etc. However, the ABU does have essential NIR (near-infra red) qualities. Unlike the ACU, the sleeves are authorized to be rolled up. The heavy weight of the material, along with the multiple layers used to make the interior pockets, retains more heat than the ACU or BDU in hot climates such as the Middle East. A new version of the ABU blouse has the multiple layers and inside pockets removed.

Overview of the Airman Battle Uniform is as follows:[8]

  • Headwear
    • Patrol cap's shape remains the same, including sewn vent holes instead of grommetted vent hole.
    • Boonie cover is available for the ABU for use only in deployed locations.
    • Organizational (e.g., squadron, group or wing) ballcaps are not authorized (exceptions being authorized bush hats, berets, and RED HORSE)
    • Sage-green watch cap for cold climate garrison and deployed locations with the All Purpose Environmental Clothing System (APECS) parka.
    • The Army's sage-green ACU fleece watch cap was authorized in 2010.
  • Sand T-shirt (cotton, cotton blend, flame-retardant, or wicking material)
  • Jacket
    • All insignia, including occupational badges (aeronautical wings, occupational badges, etc.), are embroidered in midnight-blue thread with urban-gray background with the exception of rank insignia for 2nd Lieutenant and Major, which incorporate brown thread.
    • Name and service tapes are embroidered in midnight-blue thread on ABU background tapes.
    • Patches (e.g., MAJCOM, USAF Weapons School, wing, group, squadron, etc.) are not worn with the ABU, with the exception of aeronautical and chaplain badges and duty shields for Security Forces and Fire Protection; however, occupational badges (up to 3) are authorized and encouraged.
    • 2 internal map pockets (allowed to be removed and no longer a feature in current production runs).
    • Pen pocket on left forearm (holds two pens).
    • No other patches are authorized – including the Commander's badge.
  • Outerwear such as APECS parka, rain jacket are available for the ABU
    • The sage-green fleece jacket is now authorized as an outer garment.[9]
  • Rigger's belt, sand
  • Trousers
    • Elastic stretch waist
    • Additional pocket inside thigh cargo pockets
    • Two lower leg cargo pockets
    • Tool pouches on lower leg pockets (with two pen pockets on the right pocket)
  • Combat boots are rough-out sage green
    • Boots are available from a number of manufacturers (Belleville, Corcoran, Bates, Danner, Rocky, Converse, Rockport, etc.).
    • Sock color must match boots.[10]

Airmen wearing ABUs on exercise

The ABU comes in 236 different size options in both male and female sizes which are only offered in temperate weight. Additionally, its permanent press finish means the uniform cannot be starched, pressed or dry-cleaned. Airmen are able to pull the ABU from the dryer and wear it without further treatment. Any further treatment would degrade the effectiveness of the uniform and damage the NIR capability.

No mixing of camouflage patterns is currently authorized with the ABU except when in deployed locations such as the U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) Area of Responsibility (AOR), or when ACU or camouflage field items, such as magazine/utility pouches, personal body armor, helmet covers, knee/elbow pads, etc., are authorized. Exception to this policy is the ECWCS Gore-Tex parka which, with installation commander approval, is authorized for wear with the ABU. Only the AF APECS Parka or DCU Gore-Tex is authorized in the USCENTCOM AOR. Backpacks and other accessories must be sage, black, or ABU pattern. As many accessories are not made in ABU specifically, ACU pattern accessories are authorized.

Airman Battle Shirt

Starting in 2009,[11] Airman who were deployed or training for deployment were issued the new Airman Battle Shirt (ABS). The ABS was developed by Massif Mountain Gear and based on the Army Combat Shirt (ACS). Like the ACS, the ABS is a stand-alone shirt designed specifically for use with Improved Outer Tactical Vest armor in warm and hot weather. It is intended to greatly increase user comfort through the use of lightweight, moisture-wicking, and breathable fabrics. Since it is only issued to deployed or predeployed airmen, the ABS is not authorized for wear outside of the deployed setting. The ABS features the same tiger stripe pattern on the sleeves as the ABU features.


Airmen generally rejected the "map" pockets inside the blouse because they are difficult to access without unbuttoning the shirt, are poorly placed for use due to sweat, and act as an additional layer of an already heavy uniform. Newer production blouses lack these pockets.

Despite improvements to the uniform such as wash and wear fabrics and improved NIR coverage, the uniform still has known problems. One of the most common complaints is that the uniform is too hot for wear in high temperature environments. In 2008, responding to these criticisms that the new Airman Battle Uniform was too heavy and hot, the USAF's 648th Aeronautical Systems Squadron at Brooks City-Base revealed their plans for a switch to a lighter, more breathable fabric with the combat blouse section of the ABU. The original heavyweight nylon/cotton blend was changed to a lighter-weight nylon/cotton poplin material. Priority will go to those serving in the Middle East or other hot-weather theaters.[12]

A second criticism is that the suede boots are too easily damaged and impossible to clean if they are exposed to grease, oil, or other petroleum products. In 2011, a new "Maintainer" style of boot, made with sage green full grain leather, was authorized for wear by all airmen to address these concerns.

Additionally, the uniform has been criticized for failing to incorporate any but the most superficial features designed into the ACU and MCCUU. The semi-digitized, tiger-stripe pattern has been criticized for being ineffective and unrealistic. These issues were addressed in an open letter from the pattern developer, Tiger Stripe Products, to servicemembers of the USAF, in which the developer agreed with the criticisms, but blamed the Air Force leadership for them.[4]

Airmen deployed to locations in Southwest Asia have been forced to abandon their ABUs in favor of DCUs because ABUs are not suitable for the intense heat of the environment. However, as of 1 November 2011, the DCU is no longer authorized for wear at any deployed location.

As of 1 February 2012, the ABU is no longer authorized within Afghanistan, though still used by a few airmen. To have uniformity with the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy, and seeing the need to better blend with the landscape and provide a lighter & cooler uniform for the desert environment, the Air Force approved and adopted the wear of the Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Pattern (OCP), or Multicam, when on deployment to Afghanistan. The ABU is still worn outside of Afghanistan, due to the Multicam not being authorized outside Afghanistan operations.

As DoD regulations require uniforms that do not melt when exposed to fire or high voltage, for certain AFSCs, a cotton variant is in initial production (2010) for fire fighters, electricians, mechanical personnel who work with electrical power for HVAC, and several other AFSCs. This version is a 100% cotton ABU coat and pant that is Certified to NFPA 1975 Standards for Station/Work Uniforms for Emergency Services (2009 edition) by Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. An additional feature of this NFPA ABU is the lack of the interior "map pockets" (a common complaint regarding the ABU). The NFPA ABU can be used upon approval by unit commanders by personnel requiring a fire-retardant fabric. The fabric is also NIR Compliant. There is another 100% cotton ABU version that is discontinued but available in limited quantities in both men's and women's sizes but this version is not fire retardant. Since the NFPA ABU's are 100% cotton, they are not nearly as durable, nor as "wash and wear" as the regular ABU's, but they are much cooler in extremely hot weather.


  •  Dominican Republic – Dominican Air Force
  •  United States – United States Air Force

See also




  1. [1]
  2. U.S. Air Force Tiger
  3. US Military, (2004). Air Force Changes Color for Proposed Utility Uniform. Retrieved 7 April 2006.
  4. 4.0 4.1 TigerStripe, (2006). "U.S. Air Force Uniform Project"
  5. Air Force Link, (2006). "Airman Battle Uniform finalized, ready for production"
  6. Bruce Rolfsen. "Airmen will receive MultiCam, eventually". Army Times Publishing Company. Retrieved 13 September 2010. 
  7. Lighter ABUs to help Airmen to beat heat in 2012, (2011). "[2]"
  8. Air Force Link, (2007). Airman Battle Uniform poster. Retrieved 10 July 2007.
  10. Air Force Link Airman Roll Call 2007. [3]Retrieved 30 November 2007.
  11. New uniforms: Comfortable, functional are goals . [4]. Retrieved 14 May 2009.
  12. Winn, Patrick, Better, Lighter ABU Blouse Is On The Way, Air Force Times, 9 May 2008
  13. Combat and Survival Magazine, image capture
  14. MultiCam Manufacturing
  15. Blackwater USA
  16. Nightline – ABC News – Courage Under Fire in Afghanistan

External links

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